The Southern Agenda

Five Total Tearjerkers

In honor of Old Yeller’s sixtieth anniversary, we asked G&G contributors to share the films that leave them reaching for the tissues

illustration: TIM BOWER

When his children were young, G&G contributor Dean King rounded up the family for a movie night. His wife brought home a video of what she thought was a simple tale about a boy and a dog—Old Yeller. “I turned to her and said, ‘You know this has a sad ending, right?’” But even King had forgotten how devastating the story is. “Our daughter Grace burst into tears.” In honor of that film, which turns sixty this Christmas, we asked a handful of contributors and staffers to share the Southern films that make them ugly cry.

True Grit. The scene where Rooster Cogburn carries a snake-bitten Mattie Ross for help gets me every time. In the original, it was John Wayne. In the excellent Coen Brothers remake, Jeff Bridges. Heroics, not pain or loss, always do me in.”—Logan Ward

“Just bringing up My Dog Skip gives me a knot in the throat. It takes only one good dog dying while one is off at college to know why the movie connects in such a brutal, though wistful, manner.”—George Singleton

“I’m not a baby boomer, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia watching The Big Chill—a 1983 movie filmed in South Carolina  about college friends reuniting after fifteen years for a funeral. When, at the end, one of the characters says, ‘We took a secret vote. We’re not leaving. We’re never leaving,’ I always tear up thinking of my own friends.”—Amanda Heckert

To Kill a Mockingbird. The Color Purple. Places in the Heart. Sling Blade. Moonlight. Even Norma Rae. Southerners aren’t shy about yanking on your heartstrings like a lawn mower starter cord.”—Allison Glock

Steel Magnolias always triggers the waterworks. M’Lynn’s  breakdown at Shelby’s funeral brings a tear to my eye, but I cry even harder when her friends offer Ouiser as a punching bag. As Truvy says, ‘Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!’”
—Elizabeth Hutchison